When An Adult Child Makes Bad Decisions

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, consequences, household rules, parenting communications, parenting older teens, struggling teens

 

10:14 Age Limit Blog

The Lord is merciful and gracious; He is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.” Psalm 103:8-9, NLT

When a child becomes an adult and is living on his own, it is no longer within our power to control much in their life. It is, however, within our power to manage our relationship with that child.

“Well, what do we do about the upcoming holidays?,” a father wanted to know.  You see, he was dealing with an adult teenager whom he had recently asked to leave their home. The son’s life was overrun by self-damaging things and he had no interest in changing. The parents had struggled and prayed long and hard about it, and rightfully concluded that it was time to ask their prodigal to go live somewhere else.

But they didn’t know what to do next. Asking their son to leave home changed everything about the way they thought things would go within their family. They were not prepared for it. In a tear-filled conversation, this father wondered – “Doesn’t inviting my son home for dinner mean we’re back to supporting his poor choices?”

The dilemma for every parent dealing with a child who exchanges a healthy life for an immoral lifestyle is this: how do we manage the day to day interactions with that child?

Let me encourage you if you are in a similar situation.  Hang in there, and remain hopeful. Don’t back down.  A good relationship with your child who has reached adulthood doesn’t mean you will never have conflict or always agree with their decisions. For parents it is important to love their older child, even when they continue to make destructive decisions.  Eventually, the child will come to his senses and he needs to know you’ll be there for him on the other side of the struggle.

When dealing with an older child, as with a younger child as well, it is extremely important to practice unconditional love.  It is love that is given across a bridge of friendship that doesn’t end when the the older child lives immorally, or chooses poorly. It is a love that provides a way of return to a closer relationship when the child finally returns to right thinking.

How to Practice Unconditional Love with an Older Child

1. Show a true desire to spend time together.

Even if your son or daughter has been asked to leave the house, still invite them to dinner. Send the message that you desire them to remain a part of your family, you intend to spend time together, and make special efforts to do so. Try to engage with them in something they like to do on a regular basis, and lovingly fight to keep your relationship with your child alive.

2. Love well during tough times.

Use your words and actions to send the message, “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.” That doesn’t change just because you’ve enforced some new boundaries. Just as God lovingly and wholeheartedly pursues us, gives us grace, and refuses to let us get away from Him, we can love well, and with compassion when a child is choosing wrong things.

3. Ask questions to open a dialogue.

Ask questions as a way of entering discussion, or lead a conversation with a thought provoking question. This is also an excellent way to leave a discussion when you are finished.  The right kind of questions (non-offensive ones) will stimulate discussion, and hopefully find some common ground. Eliminate “you” statements and replace them with “who, what, when, where, or how” questions that inspire further thought.

4. Be a servant, but not a doormat, even when it doesn’t fit your schedule and liking.

Remember that no kindness will go unnoticed, even if your teenager doesn’t acknowledge your efforts. Keeping an attitude of kindness and consideration that shows you value others more than yourself will help you find the right ways to serve your child when needed.

5. Don’t lecture. Wait to be invited before sharing your opinion.

One of my favorite scriptures says, “A fool delights in airing his own opinion.”  Before you give your opinion, make sure they’ve asked you for it first. Look to their interests and their needs, and not your limited focus or agenda. Don;t attempt to fix their problems. in other words, just keep quiet.

6. Don’t give in to their wrongdoing.

God does not help us do more wrong. We are never to enable another’s sin, including helping our child continue to do wrong or to develop damaging habits.  Allow God time and space to work in your child’s life, and don’t rescue their wrongdoing.

7.  Be patient.

Adjust your expectations away from a swift fix for your child. You may see change happen quickly, or you may not see a change for years.  It is important to remind yourself that it is God’s job to change someone’s heart, not yours.  Let Him do his work on His timetable while you remain prayerful and available to follow where he leads.

8.  Pray for your child daily and let him know you are praying.

Of course, we practice unconditional love by praying daily for our children, even when they become adults.  And be sure to let them know you are praying for them. They may think you are silly, but when bad times come for them, and they will, they will find comfort in knowing that there is a Higher Power that is petitioned daily on their behalf.

Loving unconditionally doesn’t mean you ignore your own beliefs and boundaries, or you fail to allow them to suffer the consequences of their own behavior. It does mean that your love for them isn’t affected by their behavior. You love them no matter what they decide to do or not to do. Making poor decisions or turning their backs to God doesn’t mean they lose your love and relationship as a parent.

Back to the question of the father at the beginning of this article.  I advised him to, “Invite him for dinner on Thanksgiving Day, just as you would any other member of your family. He knows how you feel about what he is involved in, so don’t bring it up. Use it as an opportunity to love your child, and give him a taste of the character of God.”

 

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The Internet, Teens & Privacy

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in internet monitoring, MySpace, teen privacy, troubled teens

Teens and Internet

I don’t have to spin tales about how things in the modern world are far different from when we were teenagers; we already know they are. But what some parents don’t know is how to effectively balance their teen’s privacy and protection. Do you have a tough time balancing “need to know” with providing your teen “some private space?”

Some parents feel unease, as if they are being sneaky or are in violation of their child’s trust, to investigate their child’s activities on the internet.  As one who daily sees the outcome of some of these cultural influences, let me set your mind at ease about monitoring your teen’s activities, on or off the internet.

First and foremost, I believe that a child needs and deserves privacy, but he also needs to know that you as a parent will go to no end to find out what he’s into if it begins affecting his attitudes and behaviors. After all, what he’s into, or the hold an outsider may have on your teen through the internet, may ultimately harm both him and your family. He may be too embarrassed to reveal it, or he could actually be afraid or feel threatened.

Follow your instincts. If you feel there is something wrong, there probably is. If you sense there are secrets abounding around you, there probably are. If something tells you your child is hiding something, you’re probably right. But when it comes to the internet, more care must be taken even if there is no outright cause for concern.

Get a Handle on the Internet…Even if Your Teen Shows No Signs of Trouble

The internet is one of the top dangers facing kids today. More rotten stuff happens on the internet than any place on earth, and you don’t have to cooperate with it or allow any of that to come into your home. Here are some tips for parents to get the internet under control:

1. Make it a home policy that parents must know all electronic passwords. This gives access if needed.  Add yourself to their “friend” list to be able to roam around on their site. Make their profile private, so that only approved “friends” can communicate with them.  A little monitoring goes a long way. If they refuse, disconnect or don’t pay for their internet access.

2. Put a high-quality internet screening/blocking software on the computer. Maintain appropriate blocking levels on the browser software (blocking access to certain web content, links or photos) and don’t back down on that.

3. Periodically view their internet “browser history” and follow the trail. You’ll be amazed. Software is available to secretly record their every move, if needed, especially if you think they are accessing the internet overnight or when you aren’t home.

4. If you feel there is a good reason to do so, read their email.  And find out who it is they are chatting with.

This is not a license to be over-controlling to the point where it pushes your child away. I’m encouraging you to be proactive and not have to face the regrets that come with “not knowing.” The fact is, kids are actively being stalked on the internet today and in their typical daring way they welcome the excitement of it all and they love role-playing in chat rooms.

I often say to teens, “Violation of my policy means violation of your privacy.” If they violate my set house rules, including internet usage rules, it should also change their expectation of privacy. If they are dishonest and lie to me, I will seek, search, and look in areas I don’t normally look in order to find answers. If they are deceptive, I will investigate. If they lie, I will pry. If they hide something, I will seek relevant information. Why? Because, as a parent, I am concerned about the life of my child, and I am responsible maintaining a sound and safe environment in the home until my child becomes an adult.

If your children are young, implement rules now to help keep you “in the know.” As your kids approach the teen years, update or add some new rules. Unless something in your teen’s life is out of control or there has been a recent change in the behavior, mood, or school grades, then a parent should keep in the know by just “looking around” and keeping an eye on things.

Tell Them You Are Watching

All parents must “keep a vigilant eye” on teenagers today.  Call it an “alert mom or dad,”  or an “involved parent,” if you will.  Be a parent who says, “I will continue to be someone who has your back, even when you don’t realize the serious nature of what you’re getting in to.” Let your teens know it is your job as a parent to keep your eyes wide open to look for anything going wrong.  Not so you can “catch them doing wrong,” but so that you can help them from falling into that trap.

If things are really spinning out of control, then it is time to have a “change of rules” discussion with your child.  This means you’ll be even more vigilant about monitoring.  The teen’s response will be, “YOU JUST DON’T TRUST ME!”  And your response can be, “It’s not that I don’t trust you…It’s that I hope to trust you more.” This statement tells your child, “I don’t want to control you, I want to be able to trust you, so use this opportunity to show me that I can trust you more than I ever have.”

I believe in privacy. I believe in trust. But I also believe in “being there” to be the parent God has called me to be. If I see anything that concerns me, then it must be brought out into the open, shared, and discussed. I tell kids that I sleep with one eye open. I’m always looking for something that has the potential to destroy a relationship with them.  I tell them that I’m looking out for them because I don’t want any unwelcome thing to intrude into their life.

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Boundaries for Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, parenting, struggling teens, teen drug use, troubled teens

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Consider the letter I received just the other day…

Saturday night our 15-year old son informed us he felt guilty because he has been smoking pot and lying about it for the last six months. He confessed to our Assistant Pastor, whom he respects, and who encouraged our son to tell us. As you can well imagine, this has been quite a blow. My heart has been broken. I can’t stop crying. I never, ever thought I’d go down this road with him. We agree our son needs discipline, but I fear my husband will be too harsh, and it will cause my son to further rebel. What is the right thing to do here?

Troubled… 

–California

My Response…

You might be dealing with just an ice cube, or you might have just touched on the tip of the iceberg. Until you dive in, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the two. In the first place, try to remain calm. You have many things working in your favor in dealing with your son, such as:

  • He confessed, so you didn’t have to “find it out” or make any “new discoveries.”
  • He said he feels guilty about what he was doing.
  • He respects someone outside the family and felt comfortable telling them, and then you.
  • He’s been grounded in scriptural principles regarding his character.

It is good that you are trying to get a handle on the issue. And you are wise to carefully consider the discipline that you are about to take. But, before you take the plunge, here’s something to think about. Sometimes parents are quick to hand out discipline or punishment — like grounding, extraction from social interaction, or taking away privileges or possessions. Discipline is good, but taking away something won’t always solve the problem entirely. It is only half of the solution for a teenager, who wants to also be treated more like an adult, not a child.

Remember that smoking pot may be an attempt to numb the hurt he feels.  When he is using such drugs, the hurt temporarily goes away.  Don’t add to those hurts by going overboard with the disciplines you hand down or by telling him how disappointed you are in him.  Fortifying your household boundaries, adding some new healthy boundaries, and strengthening your relationship will provide better results.

Boundaries are simply limits set around behavior to try to change the direction a child is going. They define what you will and won’t accept, and should come from what you believe is right for your teen at this stage in his life and for your family.

Boundaries include what your son already knows, what you’ve taught him all his life, and they are why he is feeling guilty about smoking pot. But sometimes teens get confused by which boundaries are “childhood” boundaries and which are lifelong boundaries.  For instance, holding mom’s hand as you walk across the street is a childhood boundary.  Avoiding illigal or immoral activity is a lifelong boundary.  The goal, then, is to make it clear to your teen which boundaries are now appropriate for him, according to the values you hold dear and just common sense (you may have noticed that teens don’t always have a lot of common sense).

Some healthy new boundaries could also include requiring your son to meet regularly with your Assistant Pastor, the one that he respects. Call and ask if that person is willing to meet your son for the next six weeks in order to talk through any underlying issues that are fueling his behavior or the feelings that led him to try pot in the first place. Tell your son you expect him to participate fully, and that during this time you will limit his other activities and contact with friends, specifically those that encouraged smoking pot.

Another positive boundary is to tell him that you will be testing him for drug use at home, using simple urine tests that you can buy at your local pharmacy. Tell him that any positive signs of drug use will result in a further plan of action.  Knowing you’ll test him for drugs periodically will help him avoid the pressure of using pot (or worse) when he is with friends or at school. In other words, he’ll be able to say to them, “I can’t, because my parents are testing me and I’ll be in real trouble if the test comes out positive.”

As you develop healthy boundaries, make it a point for both you and your husband to spend time with your son on a regularly scheduled basis. Set up a weekly breakfast or dinner with just him. Be sure to mostly listen, not talk. Begin and end your discussion with making sure he understand that there is nothing he can do to make you love him more, and there’s nothing he can do to make you love him less. Don’t be afraid to ask him the hard questions.

Your goal should be to establish a solid relationship, encourage ongoing discussions, and as a result, other things he is struggling with will be revealed. Often a teen is acting out due to deeper issues. Is he struggling with his sexuality, or are bullies threatening him at school, or does he feel intimidated by his peers into doing the same wrong things they are doing, or could he be struggling with depression or low self-esteem?  Ask him if he needs your help, or the help of anyone else. Seek professional help if needed.

The bottom line is to avoid lecturing and begin listening and observing. Teenagers simply don’t respond to lecturing and it may take awhile for them to open up to you, but keep trying. And don’t let the disappointment you feel cause you to pass judgment or condemn him, because he probably already feels badly enough, even if he doesn’t outwardly show it. Remember, this isn’t about you, your reputation, or your parenting skills. It is about him.

Move from disappointment and judgment to compassion, but make it clear what the boundaries are.

Take advantage of the opportunity before you to keep the relationship open and alive. Stand your ground concerning the boundaries, and add some new boundaries, but strive to get through it all with your relationship intact. Then your son will learn to respect the healthy boundaries you’ve put into place in his life, and in the future will continue to come to you whenever he is struggling.

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Troubled Teen Triggers

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in at-risk teens, parenting, struggling teens, teen counseling, teen therapy, troubled teens

weaponswithwords

Do your parents know everything that happened every minute of your childhood? Probably not. Neither do you know everything that has happened in your teenager’s life.

Events in our childhood can impact the way we relate and act in our teenage years and sometimes for the rest of our lives. Past happenings may lead us to feel that we are inadaquete and we react by learning to be suave, to use humor to fit in, to be shy, or to avoid people or situations.

Think back on your own life. Are there early events that caused you to think and behave the way you do? I’m sure if you think about it for a day or two, you’ll remember hurtful things you haven’t thought about for years, yet they impact your everyday life and relationships today.

Bad behavior in the teenage years can be triggered by something as simple as a comment made by someone many years prior. The teen may not even remember what was said, just the feeling it created. Or, it could be rooted in the consistent lack of affirmation, or a traumatic event in your child’s life, like a split in your home, sexual abuse, emotional abuse by a parent, or a major loss in the teen’s life.

We develop our behavior over a period of time and we can be sidetracked by damaging words said like, “You’re stupid,” which can set into motion a style of relating that means, “I’m not going to appear to be stupid.” I’m going to appear to be smart (or I’m always right, no matter what the truth is).

When piercing words are said. It hurts us to the core. And we react or cover it up by our behavior. We don’t want others to see the shame we feel, or see that we don’t have it all together. So we struggle in an endless cycle.

For kids, hurtful words in the sixth and seventh grade can be especially cruel. The verbal attacks will come. Accusations will happen and things will be told. Words will rip a child apart. It is fertile ground for lifelong affects. And today, the verbal attacks have shifted to even more ruthless cyber attacks online like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter leading some recipients to the brink of suicide.

We simplistically teach our kids to defend themselves with comebacks like, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Or, “I’m rubber and you’re glue, what you say bounces off of me, and sticks on you.” And a teenager may say,”I don’t care what you think.” But the truth is, none of these are true. Kids are profoundly impacted by what their peers and adults in their life say or think.

Gary Smalley says, “Unfortunately, negative words (or just the lack of affirming ones) can turn out the lights in a child’s life. Lights that may never be lit again.”

Teenagers act the way they do for a reason. Even so, an errant teenager, when challenged, may retort, “I don’t know why I’m the way I am.” Or, “I don’t know why I chose to do that.” And that may be true. They may not know. What comes out can be the reaction to a bruise made on their heart years earlier, by some person, event or circumstance. “Garbage in, garbage out,” is the old computer adage that aptly relates to the human condition as well.

So, if your teenager is exhibiting serious behavioral problems and relational conflicts with you or others, there may be something in the past that helped trigger it. I don’t say this to dismiss blame for the teen’s actions, or to give license to bad behavior, no matter what caused it. But I say this to help you better understand such behavior, if you see it happening over and over again, and to seek help if needed.

A trained therapist can help uncover the root causes and bring these issues to the surface with the teenager so they can be dealt with. When the teen begins to see where they’re hurt and their own frailties, it’s only then that they’ll be willing to start to change some things. After all, they usually don’t want to be controlled by things they have no control over. They want to be their own people.

Helping your teenager get a handle on these issues can help prevent a lifetime of bad behavior and relational struggles. If you’d like help finding a counselor near you, please call us at 903-668-2173 or visit our Parenting Today’s Teens website.

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Teen Spin Control

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in at-risk teens, household rules, parenting, parenting communications, parenting older teens, struggling teens, teen communications, teen counseling, troubled teens

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Are you dealing with a struggling teen in your home? Are emotions running high and hope running low? I’d like to offer you some advice to help you find peace in the midst of this struggle.

There is nothing worse than living with a struggling teen who is spinning out of control, and no worse feeling than the hopelessness parents experience in the process. It is difficult to know what to do and how to react when your teen daily reaches new lows in disobedience, dishonesty, and disrespect, and chooses every wrong thing.

Your teen is caught in “The Spin Cycle,” and he or she needs you to intervene.  The downward spiral can have tremendous destructive potential with lifelong consequences, or even bring a young life to a quick end.

It is frightening to think about the damage he or she may be doing to his or her future.  But that’s just what we parents do…we worry about our child when we see the warning signs (grades dropping, hanging around with the wrong crowd, drug use, depression, defiance, sexual promiscuity).  The unknown is always scary, but we cannot watch over our teenager every minute.  We also personalize our teen’s struggles as a direct reflection of who we are as people and how good we have been as parents.  This personalization often causes more pain and anger within us than the current situation should cause.

When teens spin out of control, they need a responsible adult to respond, not react.  In responding to a spiraling teen, you offer calmness, honesty, love, grace and support.  If you are instead reacting, you are emotional, angry, hurt, quick to judge, and often harsh.  These knee jerk, seemingly instinctive interactions are almost always counterproductive.

Reacting to your teen’s misbehavior or lack of respect is probably never going to give you the response you intended or wanted.  Responding correctly in the midst of chaos is difficult, but parents of teens must learn to stop their mouths, think about what is to be said or done, and only then speak or act – Stop, Think, Go.

Most people in times of crisis are in Go, Stop, Think mode, which will only bring more pain and chaos.

So, Where Do You Begin?

You can start with a simple truth and consequences message, “Honey, we’re not going to live like this anymore.” or, “I will no longer stand by and watch you destroy yourself. We’re going to address what’s going on, get some help, and get through this together.”  Make the message clear, “The negative behavior we’re seeing will no longer be allowed or tolerated in our home.”

Don’t expect your teen to like the new rules, nor the related consequences.  And they probably won’t appreciate your attempts to deal with their bad behavior.  Their first response will most likely be anger or resentment.  Be prepared for their behavior to get worse – more screaming, more name calling, etc.  They are upping the ante; forcing you to back down.  They want to see if you are really serious about these new rules.

The time your child may spend hating you is short, and compared to the entirety of a life, it’s just a blip on their radar.  Secretly, he or she may feel relieved and thankful you cared enough to intervene, giving them a good excuse to say “No” to their peers when asked to participate in the wrong things.

Usually, a teen figures out that life will be much easier if they change their behavior so they can work things out with their parents, but not always right away.  And sometimes they simply don’t figure this out at all, or this behavior is too entrenched to handle it all on your own.  You may need the help of a counselor, or may even need to place your teen in a program like Heartlight for a time.

Then What?

Once you start down the path of responsible parenting, don’t stop, and don’t be pulled down to their level with childish fighting.  Stay calm and focused on what you want for them and deal with the heart of the issue.  There will be days when you mess up and yell back.  After you calm down again, go to your teen and apologize for yelling.  Don’t turn it into a lecture or blame her for you losing your cool.

There’s never a good time in our busy lives to be faced with a crisis like dealing with a teenager caught in the spin cycle.  It can be very difficult, but keep in mind that more parents of teens are going through the same thing with their own teenager.  Seek them out and find a place where you can share your feelings and gain strength and support from each other.

Most parents describe the struggle with a troubled teenager as a “roller-coaster” or a “powder keg,” and for many it can either be a time of the family banding together, or it can tear them apart.  With what is at stake, the most important thing you can do for your teenager is to keep your relationship strong and prevent the struggle from becoming the focus of your life.  You’ll have those “valley” days.  Walk through the valley, and keep on walking, for as long as it takes.

Do not stop to build monuments to your grief, anger, or fear.  One thing that can help at the low times is to pull out old pictures and videos to remember the good old days when your teen didn’t treat you like dirt.  It will give you better perspective and strength to keep fighting for what’s right for your teenager even though it may be a totally one-sided and unappreciated fight for his future.  Celebrate the good days.  They’ll likely be few and far between for a time, but that’s okay.  Let them prop you up.  Enjoy each victory.  Laugh with your teen.  Reflect on the good, and hope for a future filled with more days like it.

Do not worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which
is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.

-Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Be sure to give the reins to God, and He will give you peace, strength, and the right perspective to deal with your teenager. Look at what may need changing in your own life.  And finally, no matter how they’ve hurt you, and no matter what they’ve done, love your teen unconditionally, as God loves us.

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